Check it out

‘Library of Things’ allows Islanders to borrow a myriad of items.


Have you ever wondered what salt looks like up close, but alas, you don’t own a microscope? Perhaps your daughter heard Prince on the radio, and suddenly wants guitar lessons, but this is the fifth thing she’s tried this year, and it’s getting pricey. Well, as if there isn’t enough to love for public libraries already, get this — there’s something called the “Library of Things,” where libraries lend out items other than books. These items can range from practical radon detectors to just-for-fun gummy bear molds. Following library best practices, each Island library does their best to make sure their collections reflect their community’s educational, recreational, and cultural needs, and the “Library of Things” helps them achieve this goal.

“When I joined the Oak Bluffs library in 2015, we already had a ‘Library on the Lawn’ collection of items that included outdoor games like croquet, lawn blankets, and even beach umbrellas,” director of the Oak Bluffs library Allyson E. Malik said. “In the years since then, we’ve added many more items to the collection. Our sewing machines are very popular — we have five of them, and at least one is always checked out at any given time. Our beach and backyard collection flew off the shelves last summer, and we also carry fishing poles and shellfishing equipment so that our community can connect with our maritime culture.”

Meeting the needs of the community isn’t the only factor taken into consideration when libraries add items to their collections. Storage space comes into play as well. “We have a tiny building and storage is a challenge, so our ‘Library of Things’ is smaller than other M.V. libraries,” Rosa Parker from the Aquinnah library explained. However, don’t let their tiny (but mighty) space fool you. They have museum passes, Wi-Fi hotspots, and a few other things patrons can borrow.

Space is an issue for the Vineyard Haven library, as well, and they’re currently undertaking a capital campaign for an addition that will expand their program facilities and storage, and should allow them the ability to offer more items in their “Library of Things.” In the meantime, they aren’t letting the lack of space keep them from doing their best to meet the needs of their community. “Sometimes we choose items by request, and sometimes our items are driven by library programs,” Amy Ryan, director of Vineyard Haven library, said. “For example, ‘The Mind in the Making’ kits for children were purchased using a grant supporting the importance of creative play for children’s learning and development. We also expanded our collection of take-home technology during COVID, when people didn’t have access to computers in the library.”

West Tisbury library director Alexandra Pratt shared that some of their most popular items are musical instruments, jewelry-making kits, puzzles, paper shredders, microscopes (now you can look at salt!) and Wi-Fi Hotspots. “We try to focus on collections not found at other libraries. For example, we don’t have many board games here, since Oak Bluffs has such an amazing collection. We also don’t have music CDs, but Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven do.”

The “Library of Things” is extremely popular. It allows people to try things without a huge commitment, and provides those who might not be able to afford specific items a chance to explore. Lisa Sherman, director of the Edgartown library, recently did a talk for the M.V. Neighborhood Convention titled “15 Perks of Having a CLAMS Library Card.” The goal of the talk was to share a list of 15 things the library offers that the general public may not know about, including “Library of Things” items. “There was so much interest when I shared the list, and so many things that Island libraries offer,” Sherman said. Currently, at the Edgartown library you can take out portable DVD players, Nintendo Switches, kitchen tools, and more. Their children’s librarian is also working on acquiring some family outdoor games to add to their catalog for summer.

Chilmark library has an interesting and diverse collection of things to check out, especially if you’re in need of tools. “We have a cordless drill and impact driver, a Dremel rotary tool, large sockets, a tire and toy inflator, battery jump starter, cordless sander, and a car vacuum, but we also have crafting tools, board games, and more,” Ebba Hierta, Chilmark library director, shared.

With a few exceptions, most items can be checked out for two weeks. For certain items, libraries have a user agreement that patrons sign, acknowledging that they are responsible for their own use of the item. (Tip: Cordless sanders are for wood, not fingers.) Libraries are all about community and sharing, so it’s no surprise that the Island libraries work together to ensure that they are on the same page about the services they provide to their communities. The Martha’s Vineyard Library Association provides a great framework for this, and library staff do their best to stay up-to-date with what each library has available, so they can make referrals. Gosh, don’t you just love a good library? Now, which library has a daiquiri maker?



  1. A person checked out one of your guitars and took lessons with me. Now that same person has their own guitar, and playing has become a wonderful part of their life. The other positive result is that I have another wonderful student. Thank you.

Comments are closed.